Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 Goals and Races

     Well, its that time of year again. Time to start planning goals and making resolutions for next year. Here is what I'm looking forward to next year along with a tentative race schedule.

Goals for 2014:

1. Stay Consistent
This involves training consistently and smart. (No over-training!!) Race as regularly as possible. I will be racing over a variety of distances, as taper/recover weeks for longer races takes away from my preparation for bigger races. Plus I want to get faster and run well at the US Mountain Qualifiers.

2. Get Faster, break 10 min for two miles
This is something I never accomplished in high school and I feel I need to be able to consistently do if I want to compete at a national level.

3. Higher Mileage Weeks
At Cajun, I was starting to fall apart after mile 16. Higher mileage weeks will increase my strength, stamina, and speed in these longer races. After Cajun, I feel I can be really competitive at a trail marathon and this may be my best distance. I was hoping to be running 80 mile weeks regularly by Feb but being so injury prone I should take it slow, making it there by May and June is more realistic.

4. Get Competitive Nationally
As long as I stay strong with the first three this one should happen. It will require persistence and funding, of course. 

5. Get More Sleep
This may be the most difficult but is the most necessary. I need to focus on getting at least nine hours of solid sleep when training heavy. My body will need the recovery time. 

6. Better Balance
Not physical balance but more of a life balance. This means better balancing the amount of time spent on: running, school, work, relationship, and family life. Hopefully this will lead to a less stressful life.

Anyway, there are the major ones. I try to be realistic but never limit myself. I hope everyone succeeds in reaching their own goals and if you don't, remember persistence pays off in the end so keep trying!
The following is a very tentative race schedule, (*) indicates I will be competing in a particular event depending on how well I run at an earlier event and (**) indicates training focused events meaning I will be specifically training for these.

(1/25) Forge Dirty Soles 10k
(3/22) Forge Equinox 50k
(3/29) Forge Headhunter 10k
(5/24) Forge Hell's Hills (10k or Half, haven't decided)
(6/13-15) Chattanooga 3 Day Stage Race 60mi
(7/6) US Mountain Running Championships and Team Qualifier, New Hampshire (**)
(8/23) US Trail 10k National Championships, Laurel Springs, NC
(9/21) US Trail 50k National Championships, Bend, Oregon (* Depends on Equinox performance)
(10/18) US Trail Half Marathon National Championships, Lake Padden, WA (**)
(11/1) US Trail Marathon National Championships, Moab, UT (**)
(12/6) Cajun Coyote 20 miler or 100k
(12/13-14) Forge Thunderbird (10k or Half)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Training Week - Recovery (12/22-12/28)

     Well after two hard races only eight days apart, I took the week off following the Thunderbird Half. Well...I tried at least. As some of you may know that is a very difficult task for me. I also should have taken this week off but I was getting stir crazy sitting around at home all day. Plus I needed to burn off some of that holiday food! So here is the break down for the week.

Monday (12/23): 4 miles.
Ran with some members of West Feliciana High XC team who are getting ready for indoor season. Just did an easy 4 miles around park (flat and grassy). Then some strides and drills/skips (barefoot) on soccer fields.
Tuesday (12/24): 4 miles.
After dropping Maureen off at the airport; I stopped at Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve in St.Francisville on way home and did two loops on the trail there. Its a short trail but a great one for beginners, not technical or hilly.
Wednesday (12/25): 6 miles.
After presents and breakfast, Grits and I went out for a quick run at the sports park (flat and grassy). Then core strengthening at home.
Thursday (12/26): 10 miles.
Ran four on the flat with one of the high school distance guys. Then a Beast loop with my new Ultimate Direction pack. Followed with barefoot drills, skips, and strides (barefoot).
Friday (12/27): 6 miles.
Another easy 6 miles on the flat at the sports park with Grits and a friend who accompanied us for the first two miles. Then a little bit of barefoot drills and strides. With core exercises and yoga/stretching at home.
Saturday (12/28): 12 miles.
Two loops at the Beast in the cold and rain, always a terrible combo. Grits wouldn't let me leave the house without him. I was unsure about bringing him because its been a long time since he has ran that far; however, it was cold and rainy so the chance of him overheating was minimal. Poor dog, he was wore out. Splits: 54:55 1st Loop, 52:39 2nd Loop, 1:47.35 Total. Only one fall, it hurt. UD pack worked great, its nice not having to stop at the truck to get water and the extra storage on the back was great for stowing extra clothing. 

Weekly Total: 42 miles.
Next week a return to normalcy minus speed-work. Only one more week to wait for that, I'm so excited and impatient! Hope everyone had a great Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reflections on 2013 and Looking Forward

   As runners, we are constantly looking towards the future. Have you ever said this to yourself, "months from now I'll be faster and ready?" I know I have. Sometimes its important that we just appreciate where we are now and enjoy our fitness level before moving on. We work so hard to achieve that level yet we immediately look forward to when we are faster. Why is that? Well, I'm not sure but what I have learned is that we need to appreciate our current capabilities and enjoy them, at least for a little while before moving on. Taking a few weeks off from my task has given me the time to do just that. When looking back on 2013, its hard to believe how much progress I've made. During that process I've learned some valuable lessons that I will not forget and would like to share.

It Takes a Tribe

  Running may seem like a very individual sport but it takes a whole group of people to really allow that runner to achieve their goals. At your next race just take a step back and observe. What you'll see is an entire group of people all helping, encouraging, supporting, and volunteering. People from all different walks of life, previously unknown to each other, all coming together to help the runners do their best. These are the people who really make the race special. They sacrifice their needs to help you achieve your best. Next time I head out to a big race, I know there is a community of friends, family, a significant other, and fellow runners behind me, all wanting me to succeed, all wanting it just as bad as me. How can one not run well with that kind of overwhelming support?

Consistency Pays

     There is a phrase: "Consistency is King". This phrase is so true. In previous years, I was completely guilty of over training. I typically enjoyed easy running throughout the year and only pushed it really hard 3-5 weeks out from a race. This typically left me injured as was the story throughout 2012. In the beginning of this year I really allowed myself some time to develop a set schedule. After Out n Back I did just that. If you are really serious about your running and performances, I highly recommend making a set schedule with at least 18 weeks of workouts planned in advance of a big race. It is also important to only increase weekly mileage by 8-10% and pay attention to intensity levels. This year taught me that smaller incremental gains over a long term are better than running too much too soon; which seldom gets us to where we want to be at all. Go for consistency, your times will drop in time.

Mental Attitude

     Perhaps, the most important thing I've learned this year is developing your mental "edge", "toughness", or whatever you want to call it. In Moab, UT, I didn't have the race I wanted. I ran an 1:40.40 for the half. After months and months of training it was a let down. So how was I able to suddenly run 1:27.02 for a trail half only a few weeks later? My fitness wasn't any better. I believe it had everything to do with my mind. Moab was a humbling experience, I learned failure is necessary for improvement. We all must go through it at some point there is no doubting that. What I learned was the necessary mental skills of confidence, determination, acceptance, tolerance, persistence, courage, and love. The confidence that my training has gotten me to where I need to be. The determination that I can win. Accepting the fact that I might not be able to do certain things well, but instead focusing on what I can do well. The tolerance to be able to accept failure and tolerant the pain that I put myself in. The persistence to continue even in the face of failure. The courage to even line up at the starting line knowing I'm about to make myself suffer. Lastly, absolutely loving what I do. Make sure you train your mind as much as you train your body.

    All in all, its been an incredible year. I've met so many great people and all of you have impacted my life positively. The races, victories, and times mean nothing compared to the great people I've met and relationships created from those encounters. Those are the things that will persist even when we slow down and I thank you all for that. Its also important that I thank my girlfriend, Maureen. I don't tell her as much as I should as she puts up with so much. Its important that we thank our significant others for supporting our desires, they see us at our worst and deal with so much time away from us. With that being said I'm looking forward to an incredible and consistent year in 2014. If all goes well, I'll be attending five national championship races next year! I can't wait to share the journey with everyone! Thank you all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cajun Coyote and Thunderbird Race Reports

Well, what an amazing two weeks its been. Two wins and two course records to close out the year. You really can't ask for more than that. Here is a race report for both Cajun Coyote 20 miler (12/7) and Thunderbird Trail Half Marathon (12/15). Both were incredible performances exceeding all my expectations.

Cajun Coyote Trail 20 Miler (12/7)

     This was my first time ever running this race and running at Chicot State Park in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Its really not a far drive from my house so I'll be returning for some camping and trail running, as the park boasts a continous twenty mile loop. Typical to all out of town Forge Races, I got terribly lost finding the park which meant no scoping out the course on Friday. Jeff Beck rented group cabins for everyone to stay in but you still had to go out in the cold to use the bathroom. This meant a lot of trips out in the freezing cold, as I like to stay really hydrated days before a race. A friend was sleeping in the mess hall which had two bathrooms inside the heated building so this is where I decided to camp. Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 am to make coffee for myself and the 100 mile runners, who started at 6 am. After eating breakfast, watching the crazies start, and packing up my stuff, I got in a little 10 minute warmup with a friend, who broke down the course for me. The plan was start conservatively in the most technical section, then drop the hammer at 10 miles. I was planning for a time of 2:20 but secretly wanted to run under that.
     We started at 9 am and I quickly found myself at the front. I wanted to control the race from the get go, I wanted to let anyone know, that I would be the one deciding how fast we run and if you stuck with me it was going to hurt. Another runner, who said he was a road marathoner decided my conservative pace was a little to slow and got in front for a few minutes. I ran right behind him and noticed how he was struggling up the uphills/downhills and more technical track. So I quickly passed him and decided to hell with conservative pacing, I used the hills to my advantage quickly opening up a lead. At aid station #1, I quickly drank a cup of water and keep pushing on roughly maintaining a 7:00 min/mile pace, feeling pretty good. At six miles I took my first Hammer gel and came into aid station #2 at 8 miles in ~58:00 min and again got a single cup of water.

Coming into Aid Station #2 (8 miles) Photo: Miriam Thompson
     The rest of the race was comprised of the daunting task of not allowing myself to slow down and true to the plan, I laid the hammer down. I flew through the half marathon split in 1:29, more than three minutes faster than my PR. That was a huge motivation to keep pushing as I felt surprisingly really good. Another gel later and I found myself at the last aid station (16 miles). Here, I stopped for two cups of water, got them to open my gel and headed out, just trying to maintain. At this point my quads were trashed from the hard running on all the hills. I was also dizzy for two miles, which typically happens when I run hard for a while then stop then start again. I was thinking at this point I should have foregone stopping at the aid station. However, there was little I could do except push on. I slowed my pace just to make sure I didn't fall as I knew I wouldn't be get up off the ground easily at this point. Between 18-20 miles I was really hurting just wanting it all to be over; a whole lot of praying got me to mile 19 and from there to finish I poured everything I had left into it. The last mile must of been short because I really doubt my ability to run a 5:23 mile on a trail after just running 19 miles but I'd like to think I'm capable. All in all this race was amazing. I was completely beside myself when I finished in 2:14.23 setting a new course record. I finished so fast everyone was busy doing other stuff, not expecting anyone to be done so soon. Whoever told me this course was flat lied to me, it certainly wasn't; however, it was very open which allowed for fast running. It was also very inspiring to see all the hundred milers battling near freezing weather, heavy rains, and flooded trails for nearly thirty hours. They were the true champions of the weekend. Thanks to Jeff Beck, Brenton Day, Forge Racing, and all the other volunteers and racers who made this a great weekend.

Thunderbird Trail Half Marathon (12/15)

     The Thunderbird trail races are the last stop of the state-wide Forge Trail Racing Series were points are totaled and state champions are named. The point races are 10ks and the race director will typically add a few extra distances such as 5ks and half marathons. Check out Forge Racing's website for more info. This race has special meaning for me as the trail is only five minutes from my house and is my go to training trail. The trail is no joke, it is called the Beast for a reason, featuring technical single track throughout and lots of hills in the ~6 mile loop. Forge has been hosting a race here for three years and I've yet to win, so I really wanted it. It was looking like it would be a possibly till about thirty minutes before the start I saw a familiar face registering at the last minute. Nick Accardo, 2013 US 100km Road National Champ, who beat me by 12 seconds in 2011 at this very race. Well, my morning just got a lot more interesting. We started fast, quickly breaking away from everyone on the gravel road heading to the trail head. We were arguing about who would lead and he decided to let me take it, I quickly slowed the pace to 1:30 half pace. After a short minute he decided this was too slow and passed me surging strongly. I knew I couldn't let him go this early so I ran right behind him. I was thinking there is no way we could maintain this pace, then I realized this must be a surge just to see what I'm capable of or break me early, so I forced myself to hang on. We popped up at the first baseball field in 13 minutes which put us on 1:23 half pace.

A blazing start. Photo: Jeff Beck, Forge Racing

Heading into single track on first loop. Photo: Miriam Thompson
     Eventually, the pace returned to 1:30 half pace to my relief. I also noticed how easily I was running up the hills behind him. It allowed me plenty of time to recover and after the steepest of hills in the second third of the loop I was smiling running behind him. I think this is when I knew that I could beat him and knew I would need to crush every hill on the second loop to do so.
     We finished the first loop in 45 minutes, exactly where I wanted to be. I got the lead back and quickly began the process of trying to run away from him. I built a small lead and was feeling really confident, then BAM! I went down hard, I never fall on this trail but today I did, twice actually. This fall hurt as I rolled over some big roots and when I get up Nick is right on my tail. I couldn't let him know that I was hurting though. So, I slowly began to really push it hard on every uphill and sprint the downhills. This race really really hurt, he was running really close, I could hear him the whole time. I knew I couldn't let the pace relax for an instant and I didn't want it to come down to a kick. I felt like a gazelle running scared from a hungry lion. Eventually, the footsteps were becoming more and more quiet. Eventually they stopped. After the race, he told me he was running so hard to catch up that he fell and knew at that point that he probably wasn't going to get me. I managed to hold on for the win and course record, despite slick and some muddy conditions. I ran the last loop in just over 43 minutes and finished in 1:27.02, setting a new course record, with Nick finishing in 1:28.04. Finally, I had been waiting a long time for that one. A race like this is one that every competitor dreams of, a battle, one that I will never forget and hope to have more of. Nick is an amazing competitor and its no surprise that he is a national champion. However, I just happened to be better on trails. This race was a huge confidence boost and I look forward to our next encounter with great pleasure! Again, a special thanks to everyone at Forge Racing, Jeff and Brenton, you guys work hard and I greatly appreciate all you do hosting races and helping trail running grow in Louisiana. Thanks to all the other volunteers, friends, and racers who came out to St.Francisville for the weekend, I hope you all come back more often.